Navigating the Depths: Exploratory Research vs Explanatory Research


Exploratory Research vs Explanatory Research Demographic Segmentation
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In the dynamic landscape of research methodologies, two distinct approaches stand out – exploratory research and explanatory research. Unveiling the differences between these methods is crucial for researchers seeking to conduct insightful analyses. In this blog, we will dive into the realms of exploratory and explanatory research, exploring when and how each method is applied.

What is exploratory research?

Exploratory research is like a journey into the unknown. It is conducted when the researcher aims to gain a better understanding of a subject with limited prior information. Think of it as an adventure, where the primary goal is to identify potential variables and gather preliminary insights. Exploratory research is often the first step in the research process, helping to shape more focused studies in the future.

Exploratory research is characterized by its flexibility and open-ended nature. Researchers use various methods such as interviews, focus groups, and literature reviews to gather qualitative data. This approach is particularly useful when investigating complex or poorly understood phenomena.

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When to use exploratory research?

Since it is an initial phase study that discovers the depth and establishes best practices, it stands to be the most viable method to go for when the topic under consideration has not been studied much in the past. So, research topics that have little published material and reports are the “go to” for exploratory research.

The purpose of such studies should not be to generate actionable insights but to understand what is the best way that insights can be generated. Since there is no previous literature available, trying to extract conclusions in the first go can be very difficult. The researchers mindset must be to understand how the research being conducted by them can serve as an action plan for any future examination of the research topic. The greater the depth with which this initial research gets carried out, the better will be the quality of future research.

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What is explanatory research?

Explanatory research, as its name suggests, is a methodological approach devoted to deciphering the reasons behind a specific phenomenon. Unlike its exploratory counterpart, which ventures into uncharted territories, explanatory research steps in during the later phases of inquiry. Its primary mission is to connect the dots, establishing cause-and-effect relationships that shed light on the factors influencing the occurrence of a particular event.

Explanatory research uses secondary resources to formulate the reasoning behind the occurrence of an event. Similar to exploratory research, explanatory research does not offer conclusive results. However, conclusive research-based approaches can leverage such explanatory research to formulate concentrated action plans.

Exploratory Research vs Explanatory Research Demographic Segmentation

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When is explanatory research used?

Explanatory research is typically used in the later stages of the research process, particularly after a phenomenon has been identified and defined. Here are common scenarios and situations where explanatory research is employed:

  • After Exploratory Research:

It follows the identification of a phenomenon in exploratory research, providing a deeper understanding.

  • When In-Depth Understanding is Needed:

Used to answer “why” and “how” questions, especially when researchers seek profound insights.

  • For Cause-and-Effect Relationships:

Applied to establish relationships between variables, revealing factors influencing outcomes.

  • In Applied Research Scenarios:

Common in applied research for practical solutions and targeted interventions.

  • When Secondary Data is Available:

Utilizes existing data, such as literature reviews, for a more comprehensive understanding.

  • For Developing Action Plans:

While not conclusive, insights from explanatory research inform the development of focused strategies.

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Exploratory Research vs Explanatory Research

Stage of study

Exploratory research studies a new field of research and so is a part of the beginning phase whereas explanatory research is carried out when the concepts have already been explored and defined, but need to be further examined for causal analysis, thus, making it a part of the latter phase.


Exploratory research does not have any premise and so establishing the best practices is a matter of trial and error approach, that is aimed to provide structure. Explanatory research, on the other hand, is a highly structured approach that interconnects various data points to point to independent variables that lead to changes in the concept under question.

Research methodology 

Exploratory research uses questioning mechanisms to identify best practices while explanatory research proceeds with gathering response data that supports or defies a predetermined hypothesis.


Exploratory research is a discovery based study while explanatory research is a relationship based study. Depending on the nature of these respective studies the objective of the research varies accordingly.

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In conclusion,The research process involves exploratory and explanatory methods, each with its own unique approach. Exploratory research is a flexible, trial-and-error method, while explanatory research connects data and establishes cause-and-effect relationships. Voxco is a reliable partner in this journey, offering tools for survey creation and agile market research. It empowers researchers to connect, discover, and transform their understanding of the world.

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What is the meaning of explanatory research?

Explanatory research is a relationship based research approach that aims to define the cause and effect relationship by identifying reasons behind why certain phenomena occur.

What is exploratory research with an example?

Exploratory research is an investigative approach to researching concepts that haven’t been clearly studied and defined. For example : a study of digital brand touchpoints to determine traffic nature and volume

Is explanatory research quantitative or qualitative?

Explanatory research model is a quantitative method that is used to test a hypothesis by collecting data that supports or defies it.


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